The relationship between a quarterback and his offensive line is one of the most important in football. When it’s at its best, the tandem is working hand-in-hand allowing the offense to move the ball through the air with precision because of strong pass protection.
But when things aren’t going well up front, odds are things won’t be going much better with the man calling plays and slinging the pigskin. With that in mind, Nate Davis of USA Today analyzes each NFL team’s quarterback situation and ranks the Bears 27th in the 32-team league. Only the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, and New York Jets rate lower than the Bears.
So what gives? Here is Davis’ explanation:
“Whether they go with Mike Glennon or fan-not-so-favorite rookie Mitchell Trubisky, there’s a reasonable chance for decent results if the pass protection doesn’t get those guys killed like it did Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Connor Shaw in 2016.”
Let’s look past the fact that Shaw (who still has high hopes for the 2017 season) didn’t play a single regular season down in 2016 and focus on the most relevant angle Davis provides us. And let’s be clear, Davis makes a valid point that the chances of Bears quarterbacks being successful this season is dependent on how effective the offensive line in front of them is. It wasn’t all that long ago when Jay Cutler was coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Denver Broncos where he was sacked at a league-low 1.8 percent, but came to Chicago and was rocked to the tune of 87 sacks in his first two seasons. In fact, Cutler’s first four seasons with the Bears represent a prime example of how easy it is to waste a talented quarterback behind a shoddy offensive line.
As for the present and near future, it’s worth asking how much responsibility should the Bears’ offensive line take for what happened with Cutler and Hoyer last season. Both players landed on season-ending injured reserve, but for different reasons. Cutler was diagnosed with a torn labrum after being sacked four times in a loss to the New York Giants. He might have been injured on what the NFL deemed to be a late-hit by Olivier Vernon that landed him a fine of $18,231. A few weeks later, Hoyer suffered a broken non-throwing arm in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. But it’s not as if defenders had a free run on Hoyer, who was sacked on just two percent of his dropbacks.
This isn’t to say the Bears couldn’t use improvements in their pass protection production. Both of the team’s tackles earned middle-of-the-pack pass protection grades from PFF in 2016. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (76.1) ranked 36th, while right tackle Bobby Massie was 38th among the 73 qualifying tackles. As you would expect, the pass blocking grades are better if you look at the Bears’ interior linemen. Josh Sitton’s 89.3 pass blocking grade and the 83.1 showing from Kyle Long ranked fourth and 13th, respectively among guards. Rookie center Cody Whitehair (86.5) earned the positions fourth best pass blocking grade from PFF. No wonder the unit as a whole was rated as the fifth best offensive line going into the 2017 season.
And yet, the offensive line still isn’t getting the kind of respect it deserves. Fortunately, training camp will open soon and games of consequence will be played. Only then will the Bears be able to disprove any false narratives about their offensive line. And if they do, the quarterbacks under center will be thankful – and probably productive.